The Kiwi Who Was German: Search for Identity Reveals World War II Crime
Part 2: In the Wrong Life
He and Vija questioned historians, and they obtained passenger lists with the names of people who had fled Riga by ship in World War II, shortly before the invasion of the Red Army. They found Anna on one of the lists. She had escaped to East Prussia, which was part of the German Reich at the time, but she had gone alone and without a child. Finally, in January 2010, they wrote to the International Tracing Service (ITS) of the Red Cross in Bad Arolsen in central Germany, asking for information about Anna Jaunzemis, née Rauze, a name they had found in one of the archives. They also asked for records on George Jaunzemis. Then they waited for a response from Germany, eating their muesli in the morning. At lunchtime, George dreamed of fish and chips, and in the evening they watched TV together.
The ITS in Bad Arolsen investigates the whereabouts of victims of Nazi persecution and others who went missing during and after World War II. The staff members search for 2,000 people a year, and they say that their numbers indicate that more and more people are trying to learn about their origins.
Employees from the tracing service contacted the official registration offices in Magdeburg and Berlin, which have records of all the residents in the respective cities. They researched telephone numbers and found friends, nephews and cousins. They send the brown envelope to Riga, containing 28 pages of documents.
Ever since Jaunzemis found the envelope in his mailbox, he has known that he grew up with the wrong mother, in the wrong country and in the wrong life.
Forbidden from Dating
He has now assembled his biography, moving backward, step by step, from a clear, sharp memory back to the blurred memories of the past, from Riga to Christchurch to Magdeburg, the place where he was born.
There is a black gravestone in Memorial Park in Christchurch with the inscription: "A DEARLY BELOVED MOTHER, Anna Jaunzemis, May 18, 1901 - May 1, 1978." For some 20 years, before he found Vija in Riga, Jaunzemis had often visited the gravestone, pondering, puzzled and questioning, wondering what she hadn't told him, and why. His mother had been sick with a cerebral hemorrhage. He visited her in the hospital every day, before and after work, but by that time she hardly spoke at all anymore and was almost blind.
They had lived together on Westminster Street in Christchurch in the 1970s. His mother stopped working when her son began earning a living. All she did was watch television, which he hated. And when they argued and he became upset, he would shout at her and say what he sometimes felt: "You're not my mother!" She would say nothing, as she continued to flip through the channels.
Three years before her death, Jaunzemis had walked into a travel agency and booked a trip to Calais in France, where he stayed for an entire month. He had managed to get away for the first time in his life, and when he returned, his mother was sick and blamed him for it.
The trip came as a surprise to her. Her son had always stayed home with her, and he never even invited guests home. He had met a Chinese woman once in his early 20s. They went out, but not very often, because his mother forbade it. He remained single.
He accepted it, just as he had accepted not being able to present a birth certificate when, as a 20-year-old, he started working for the Air Force in April 1961. The document had been lost in the confusion of the war, his mother had said. All he had was a certificate from the authorities that read: "Born in Riga (not verified); 18 November 1941 (not verified)." The document was meant to confirm his identity, but it wasn't even stamped.
Feelings of Isolation
As a teenager, George didn't know where Latvia was. His mother spoke Latvian with him, but he only understood about 100 words. He had learned not to ask her questions, because the answers were always the same: His father was an officer who had died in the war, and his brother and sister had frozen to death in Siberia. He had no family, just a mother.
But she only called him "George" and never "my son." She didn't kiss him. She never gave him desserts. They lived together, but he felt lonely. She isolated him.
At 15, George made his first friend in school, a boy named Laurence. They would sit together on the river in the afternoons and go rafting together, and George eventually followed Laurence into the Air Force.
His mother worked while George went to school. She worked as a maid for a Catholic priest during the day and also worked in a factory, where she made rubber parts for shoes. She brought work home in the evening, and sometimes George would help her, or he would sit on the floor and build model airplanes.
They spoke very little. His mother couldn't write, and she never read anything to him. Sometimes George had the feeling that the walls around him were falling down and crushing him.
A New Name
George still remembers the apartment they lived in. He turns over the piece of graph paper on his table in Riga and sketches the apartment. "The rooms were small," he says. "It was on Rugby Street." Or was it Darfield? Or Orbell Street?
He gets the stations of his life mixed up. He leafs through the files. They paint a more accurate picture of where he was. He and his mother moved 16 times. She was running away.
George was eight when he arrived in New Zealand with Anna Jaunzemis on June 26, 1949, on the 138-meter (450-foot) ship SS Dundalk Bay. The voyage from Trieste in Italy to Wellington had taken 36 days. "I still remember the Suez Canal, the heat in the Red Sea and the souvenir vendors who would come up to the ship in small boats," says George.
George was wearing shorts and had his hair parted on the side when he walked off the ship in Wellington, and when someone asked him what his name was, he said "George Jaunzemis." He hadn't had the name for long. He had only acquired it in Munich, where he and his mother had lived for three years, from 1946 to 1949, in a former SS barracks in the city's Freimann district, before emigrating to New Zealand. She had registered them as "George Jaunzemis/Anna Jaunzemis." Anna kept the boy close at hand, not sending him to the German school and keeping him away from German children.
'The Point at Which She Kidnapped Me'
The barracks in Munich is the first place he remembers. He remembers sitting at a window looking out at the fog. There is also a photo from that time, which someone had sent to the Red Cross after it had issued an appeal for help in the search for lost children. The person who had sent the photo had noticed this woman and her child, and wondered why she spoke Latvian. The photo, which was later included in the brown envelope, is of the boy and Anna lying on the grass at the barracks in Munich.
"The files are my only source of information on anything that happened before that," he says. People only begin to form memories and think in terms of remembered stories at three or four years of age. But the brain does begin to store some details earlier.
"Here," says Jaunzemis, "this was the point at which she kidnapped me," he says, in his broad New Zealand accent. It's on the third page of his documents.
- Part 1: Search for Identity Reveals World War II Crime
- Part 2: In the Wrong Life
- Part 3: Sent to an Institution
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